A federal magistrate in San Francisco granted release on $250,000 bail today to an Italian consulate employee and his wife who are accused of obtaining forced labor from a Brazilian woman who worked as their servant in 2009.
Giovanni Penzato, 55, an administrative clerk at the Italian Consulate in San Francisco, and Kesia Penzato, 33, were arrested by federal agents early Friday.
Kesia Penzato and the couple’s two children, ages 8 and 6, had been scheduled to leave that day to visit her family in Brazil.
The husband and wife were each freed on $250,000 property bonds by U.S. Magistrate Elizabeth Laporte this morning.
Laporte scheduled their arraignment on the charges for July 18.
Both Penzatos are charged in a criminal complaint filed Friday with obtaining forced labor by means of force, threats or physical restraint. That charge carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 years in prison upon conviction.
Giuseppe Penzato is additionally charged with illegally confiscating the woman’s passport in furtherance of forced labor. The charge has a maximum sentence of five years in prison if he is convicted.
An affidavit filed with the complaint by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Melissa Saurwein alleges that the couple enticed an unnamed Brazilian woman, whom Kesia Penzato had known as a child, to come to San Francisco to work for them as a servant in 2009.
The affidavit alleges that the couple forced the woman to work more than 60 hours a week for three months, failed to pay her most of the salary due, controlled when she could leave their house, took her passport and withheld food.
Defense lawyers said in a court filing, “Both Penzatos vehemently deny the allegations.”
The attorneys wrote, “This case is nothing more than a civil wage and hour case brought by a scheming young woman to facilitate her goal of living permanently in the United States.”
The defense attorneys could not be reached for comment today.
Italian Consul General Fabrizio Marcelli said he had no comment on the case.
After three months of working for the Penzatos in their house on Chestnut Street in the Marina District, the Brazilian woman left their employ in mid-November 2009, according to the affidavit.
A year later, the woman, using the name Jane Doe, filed a civil lawsuit against the Penzatos in federal court in San Francisco. The lawsuit, which is pending, says she is now living in San Francisco.
The allegations in the civil lawsuit are similar to those in the criminal complaint.
Both also claim the woman was given a contract providing that she would work no more than 35 hours per week and would be paid $1,500 per month, but that she received only $600 or $700 during the three months.
Both documents also allege that Kesia Penzato physically attacked the woman in October 2009 to force her to sign a different contract, and that Giuseppe Penzato “touched her inappropriately in a sexual manner” in her bedroom at night in late October and November 2009.
Saurwein wrote in the affidavit that the couple often told the woman that she had no recourse against them because they had diplomatic immunity. The agent said, however, that after consulting with State Department and Justice Department authorities, she determined that the couple does not have diplomatic immunity protecting them from the charges.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News